Strengthening Democratic Institutions in Maldives

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s first overseas visit to India, after becoming President of the Indian Ocean nation of Maldives with a population of 400000, from 16 to 18 December 2018, a month after assuming his new responsibility, reaffirmed Solih’s “India First” policy and seems to have brought a tumultuous phase in India-Maldives ties to a close. India, for its part, announced at the press conference – attended by Maldivian President Solih and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a financial package of $1.4 billion for the Maldives in the form of budgetary support, currency swap agreements and concessional lines of credit. The package comes as Maldives is facing a debt of $3.2 billion with China. Both sides also agreed to coordinate maritime policing activities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) through coordinated patrol and aerial surveillance, as Modi said, “Cooperation between our countries is necessary for maintaining stability in the Indian Ocean region and we are willing to take our relationship to its fullest potential”.

Prime Minister Modi had attended the swearing-in ceremony of Maldives President Solih on 17 November 2018 and was the only head of government present at Solih’s inauguration. Soli had defeated pro-China Abdulla Yameen in September elections and, since then, has recalibrated his country’s ties with India. Modi had then tweeted, “Recent elections in the Maldives represent collective aspirations of the people for democracy, rule of law and a prosperous future. We in India strongly desire to see a stable, democratic, prosperous and peaceful Republic of Maldives”. The US, its allies and India have been concerned by growing Chinese influence in this strategically positioned Indian Ocean archipelago, especially under Yameen’s authoritarian rule. Solih’s victory has been a shot in the arm for those who favour strengthening democratic forces in the island nation.

  • Solih’s India visit has seen the two sides emphasise their traditionally close bond.
  • Both have agreed to ensure that they would keep other’s security interests in mind as they consolidate cooperation in IOR.
  • In an attempt to boost trade ties, Modi “welcomed the expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives”.
  • Areas such fisheries development, tourism, transportation, connectivity, health, education, information technology, new and renewable energy and communications were earmarked for enhancing bilateral cooperation.
  • Four agreement/memorandums/declaration were signed during the visit:
    • Agreement on Facilitation of Visa Arrangements
    • Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Cooperation
    • Memorandum of Understanding for Establishing Mutual Cooperation to Improve Ecosystem for Agribusiness
    • Joint Declaration of Intent on Cooperation in the field of Information & Communications Technology and Electronics

India’s patient handling of the Maldives crisis over the last few years has positioned it well and the logic of geography dictates that India’s role will be critical in determining the trajectory of political developments in the Maldives. Maldives would need the support of India as its challenges remain acute. India must keep its eyes firmly on the long term and must remain invested in strengthening democratic institutions in its neighbourhood, the better returns it will get in its foreign policy.

Solih’s government vision is anchored in decentralised and people-centric governance and India seems to enjoy a special place in his worldview, Soli stressed that it is “our closest neighbour”. President Ram Nath Kovind reciprocated by tweeting: “India attaches the highest importance to its relationship with Maldives”

India has offered 1000 additional training slots for the next five years; close cooperation on political and diplomatic issues; and support to the Maldives as it seeks to re-join the Commonwealth and its entry into the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Malidives has also given assurances to be fully sensitive to India’s security and strategic concerns, in the light of reports that China has gained access to one or more islands for military purposes. As the security interests of both countries are interlinked, India and the Maldives have agreed to be mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region.

Solih participated in a business event hosted jointly by India’s three apex industry chambers and is message was clear: the Maldives is open for business again. The annual value of bilateral trade is $200 million. Given the country’s small population, trade and investment facet of the bilateral relationship is of a modest nature. India. India Inc., therefore, needs to be en

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